NASA Announces Initiative to Boost Small Science Satellite Efforts

Artist illustration of events on the sun changing the conditions in Near-Earth space. A new study finds daily U.S. economic cost from solar storm-induced electricity blackouts could be in the tens of billions of dollars. (Credit: NASA)

LOGAN, Utah — The head of NASA’s science programs unveiled an $100 million per year initiative on Monday focused on the use of small scuebce satellites that includes data buys from three spacecraft constellation operators.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said the funding would go to targeted space science, technology and educational projects. He made the announcement during a keynote address at the annual Small Satellite Conference in Logan, Utah.

A key element of the initiative is the purchase of Earth science data from companies with satellite constellations in Earth orbit. Zurbuchen announced that the first purchases will be made from DigitalGlobe, Planet and Spire. He did not disclose the amounts of the awards.

Zurbuchen said NASA’s goal is to work with the growing small-satellite industry, not to compete with it. The space agency will invest in early-stage research and development to advance and test new technologies.

Zurbuchen also announced a new opportunity for small-satellite technology demonstrations focused on heliophysics that will be funded at up to $65 million.

“This opportunity will ultimately help deploy #SmallSat technologies to better understand @NASASun science and protect Americans by protecting US technological infrastructure on Earth and in space from the perils of space weather,” he tweeted.

Zurbuchen said NASA plans to provide more launch and rideshare opportunities for small satellites built by government, commercial and international partners.

NASA Canceled Radiation Budget Instrument Due to Budget, Technical Issues

Radiation Budget Instrument (Credit: Harris Corporation)

Excessive cost growth, technical issues and poor contractor performance were the key factors that caused NASA to cancel a scientific instrument that had been set to fly aboard NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System 2 (JPSS-2), according to an assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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Senate to Vote on Bridenstine’s Nomination to Lead NASA

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has filed a motion to bring the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) to become the next administrator of NASA to a vote on the Senate floor.

News of the cloture motion was tweeted by Senate Cloakroom (@SenateCloakroom) on Monday. The account is operated by the Senate Republican Cloakroom staff.

Bridenstine was nominated for the position by President Donald Trump in September. The Senate Commerce Committee approved by a narrow party-line vote, with all the Democratic members voting against it.

Democrats have said that Bridenstine lacks the requisite scientific and technical background to lead the nation’s space agency. They have also questioned his past statements that global warming was not occurring. NASA spends $1.9 million on Earth science programs.

The vote on Bridenstine could be very close. It is believed that all 49 Democrats will vote against it. That would leave a narrow margin of 51 Republicans to vote for Bridenstine.

However, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has questioned  the wisdom of appointing a partisan politician to run an agency that has broad bipartisan support.

Vice President Mike Pence could break a 50-50 tie. However, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been absent from the Senate undergoing cancer treatments.

Trump Budget Proposal Cuts NASA Earth Science Missions, Education & WFIRST Program

Earth as seen from the DSCOVR spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

Below are excerpts from a White House budget document. As it did with the FY 2018 budget plan, the Trump Administration once again proposes to close NASA’s Office of Education and to cut the same five Earth Science missions. The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope program would also be canceled.

All totaled, the cuts would be a reduction of $338 million from what was spent on these programs in FY 2017. Congress and the president have not yet settled on final budget figures for FY 2018, which began last Oct. 1.

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NASA KSC Director Looks Ahead to 2018 Milestones

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana speaks to employees at the Florida spaceport about plans for the coming year. (Credits: NASA/Frank Michaux)

By Bob Granath
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana recently spoke to spaceport employees about plans for 2018. The coming year will be highlighted by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) partners preparing to launch test flights for crewed missions to the International Space Station.

“This is going to be an awesome year for us,” Cabana said speaking to center employees on Jan. 11, in the Lunar Theater of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Apollo Saturn V Center. “The number one priority this year is we’ve got to get commercial crew flying to the International Space Station.”

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NASA & JAXA Agree to Pursue Deep Space Gateway

TOKYO (JAXA PR) — On January 24, 2018, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) met to exchange their views on space exploration. The agencies signed a joint statement affirming their strong mutual interest in continued future cooperation in space exploration.

Both agencies have established a strong and committed partnership throughout the many years of cooperation in all mission areas, including human exploration, Earth and space science, fundamental aeronautics, and especially through the International Space Station (ISS) Program.

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Decadal Survey Recommends “Robust, Resilient, and Balanced” Earth Science Program


WASHINGTON (National Academies PR) — NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) should implement a coordinated approach for their space-based environmental observations to further advance Earth science and applications for the next decade, says a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

This approach should be based on key scientific questions in areas such as reducing climate uncertainty, improving weather and air quality forecasts, predicting geological hazards, and understanding sea-level rise. The report also recommends building a robust, resilient, and balanced U.S. program of Earth observations from space that will enable the agencies to strategically advance the science and applications with constrained resources.

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Jim Bridenstine Explains Why He is Qualified to be NASA Administrator

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) says that his leadership efforts in Congress on space issues qualifies him to serve as NASA administrator.

“For three terms in Congress, have led comprehensive, bipartisan, space reforms with the objective of preserving America’s preeminence and global leadership in space,” Bridenstine stated in a notarized document submitted to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

“These efforts have led me to a deep understanding of the complex challenges NASA will face bringing together traditional space companies and new space entrepreneurs into a comprehensive NASA vision for both exploration and science,” he added. “Traditional and new space companies are both critical to accelerating America’s space renaissance.”

In the document, which queried Bridenstine on his views and qualifications for NASA’s top job, the congressman listed NASA’s top three challenges as:
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What Might Happen to NASA’s Earth Science Programs Under Bridenstine?

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Imagine the following scenario: NASA’s Earth Science division gets its budget cut with key missions focused on climate change canceled.

The new NASA administrator then announces the division will be dismantled, with various programs divided among other federal departments, in order to better focus the space agency on exploration. The bulk of the programs end up at NOAA, which the NASA administrator says is a much more appropriate home for them.

NOAA, however, is already reeling from spending cuts. Struggling to perform its own forecasting duties on a reduced budget, the agency has little bandwidth to take on any additional responsibilities. And the funding allocated for the NASA programs that were just transferred over is woefully inadequate for the tasks at hand.

The result is a bureaucratic train wreck in which America’s Earth science and climate research programs gradually wither away due to mismanagement, neglect and lack of funding. The ability of the nation — and the world — to understand and address the changes the planet experiencing is greatly reduced. At some future date, another administration will have to rebuild a program in shambles that was once the envy of the world.

Sound far fetched? Think again. It could very well happen if the Trump Administration and the man it has nominated to lead NASA get what they want out of Congress.

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Bridenstine’s ASRA Bill Proposed Radical Changes in NASA’s Goals, Structure

NASA LOGORepublished from April 25, 2016

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA would be given a mandate to pioneer the development and settlement of space and a commission dominated by Congressional appointees to oversee those efforts under a bill proposed by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK).

The measure’s basic premise is that NASA’s problems stem from unstable presidential commitments to space exploration as opposed to Congress’ tendency to support expensive programs that bring funding into particular states and districts.

“Over the past twenty years, 27 NASA programs have been cancelled at a cost of over $20 billion to the taxpayer,” according to a statement on a website devoted to the measure. “Many of these have come as a result of changes in presidential administrations.

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House Appropriations Committee Boosts NASA’s Budget

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Ignoring the Trump’s Administration’s fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018) budget request, the House Appropriations Committee has voted to boost NASA’ spending to $19.88 billion, including significant increases to the space agency’s Exploration and Planetary Science programs.

The appropriations bill is an increase of $779.8 million over Trump’s requested budget of $19.09 billion. It would increase NASA’s budget by $218.5 million over the $19.65 billion the space agency is receiving in FY 2017.

NASA’s Exploration program, which includes the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft, would be boosted by $226 million to $4.55 billion under the House measure. The administration had requested $3.93 billion, a cut of $390 million under current spending.

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Trump Administration’s NASA Policy Slowly Emerges

Vice President Mike Pence addresses NASA employees, Thursday, July 6, 2017, at the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Vice President Mike Pence’s speech at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center last week was long on rhetoric and short on details, but a few themes and priorities have already emerged in the Trump Administration’s slowly evolving approach to the nation’s civilian space program.

NASA Will Lead Again

In a speech in which he repeatedly praised President Donald Trump, Pence used some variation of the word “lead” a total of 33 times (“leadership” 18 times, “leader(s)” eight times,  “lead”  six times and “leading” once).
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Palazzo Celebrates Proposed NASA Earth Science Cuts

Rep. Steven Palazzo

You might think that that being from a Gulf state susceptible to the effects of rising sea levels, higher storm surges and stronger hurricanes from a warming planet, Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS) would be a big fan of NASA’s research into global change.

Well, think again.

Rep. Steven Palazzo praised NASA’s move away from studying the Earth and instead focusing resources on the rest of the universe.

During a House Appropriations Committee hearing Thursday, the Mississippi Republican applauded the agency for proposing to eliminate five Earth science missions designed to measure a number of global warming factors such as ocean ecosystems and carbon levels. President Trump’s proposed budget also would cut funding for Earth research grants and would terminate the Carbon Monitoring System, a project that NASA developed in 2010 in response to congressional direction.
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Pence Promises Strong NASA, Provides Few Specifics

Mike Pence

Expectations were middling for Vice President Mike Pence’s appearance at an event in Houston during which NASA introduced its new class of astronaut candidates. He did not disappoint.

There were some hopes he might announce the nomination of a new NASA administrator. Or some new program. Or something newsworthy.

None of that happened. Pence did give a well-delivered speech long on platitudes, promises and soaring rhetoric about exploring the reaches of space but short on specifics.

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Congressional Budget Gives NASA $19.6 Billion

NASA would receive $19.653 billion for fiscal year 2017 under an Omnibus spending bill released on Monday by Congressional appropriators, an increase of more than $600 million requested by the Obama Administration. NASA received just under $19.3 billion in FY 2016.

The bill was released seven months into the 2017 fiscal year. The government has been operating on continuing resolutions since the year began last Oct. 1.

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